Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took his second career victory in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest. In changeable conditions throughout, the lead battle was a frantic exchange between Ferrari’s Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, the Mercedes’ of Lewis Hamilton and the Australian. Ricciardo passed both in the last four laps to take a thrilling victory just in time for F1’s summer break.
Another dramatic qualifying session saw Hamilton’s car – and potentially his championship – go up in flames. The Mercedes driver lasted barely five minutes before thick white smoke came belching out of the back of the silver arrow with a fuel leak. Adding insult to injury was Nico Rosberg who took pole for the third race in a row from Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton would later start from the pitlane alongside Mclaren’s Kevin Magnussen who crashed heavily in a wet Q3, and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat who stalled on the dummy grid.
A wet grid meant that everyone would start the race on the intermediate tyres. Rosberg led away into turn one off the line as the field tentatively filtered through the first lap. Bottas made a daring move under braking round the outside of Vettel and looked to challenge Rosberg into turn two. Not taking it easy on lap one though was Hamilton, whose weekend was quickly unravelling within 24 hours. The Brit, with cold brakes spun at turn two after leaving the pits – touching the barrier gently but carrying on.
Rosberg soon checked out at the front, leaving Bottas and Vettel to battle for second place; the Williams looking more unstable by the lap as the Finn struggled to control the rear of the car. The gap after only six laps was eight seconds as the track ever so slightly began to develop a dry line.
The race was then neutralised on lap eight as Marcus Ericsson suffered a big crash on the exit of turn three. The Swede got loose on the painted kerb and was spat out onto the run-off and into the barrier. Substantial damage to the car but Ericsson was out unscathed. With the safety car now out, several runners chose to make their first stops. Hamilton who had made significant progress – leaping up to 13th – pitted to change tyres and check his front wing for damage.
Daniel Ricciardo – having started 4th – made a poor start to the race; losing a position to Alonso and Jenson Button into turn one. The Australian chose to pit on lap nine and would rejoin in front of the Mclaren and in the lead as Rosberg and the leaders pitted. With all but a few now on dry weather (prime) tyres, Ricciardo lead from an intermediate shod Button (who was praying for more rain to come and soon), Massa, Rosberg (despite a worrying smoke coming from the rear) and Magnussen rounding out the top five.
At the restart, Button made short work of Ricciardo out of turn one. It would not last long however as the track was beginning to fully dry out; the Mclaren driver was in the pits by the end of the next lap. Ricciardo now leading began to edge out a gap as Rosberg tried to make his way past Magnussen into the first turn. The Dane pushed him out wide and the erstwhile championship leader fell behind Jean-Eric Vergne and Alonso. Hamilton now scarcely believing his luck was now separated by just one car between himself and Rosberg. Rosberg made a dive for the inside of Vergne into turn one for sixth but locked up heavily and nearly made contact; Vergne re-took the place. Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India chalked up his first DNF of the season by collecting team-mate Pérez into the final corner and into the wall.
Further up front, Vettel found himself in a Mercedes sandwhich, with Rosberg in front and Hamilton behind. The four times world champion was doing a sterling job in holding Hamilton off though as the Red Bull was showing more promising speed. Also showing promise was Vergne who, after the pit stops was running an impressive fourth and holding off Rosberg on merit.
The safety car was called out again after another huge shunt; this time for the second Force India of Sergio Pérez. The Mexican, who was running in eighth place at the time, got onto the painted kerbs on the exit of the final corner and careered across the track and smashed into the pit wall. The car fell to pieces at the rear with significant amounts of debris strewn over the track. Pérez was unhurt and got out of the car. Ricciardo pitted from the lead, again under safety car conditions and rejoined in sixth place; not having to stop again. As some pitted and some did not, the order on lap 25 was: Alonso, Vergne, Rosberg, Vettel, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Massa, Gutierrez, Raikkonen and Sutil.
The top ten remained that way after the safety car pitted, with Hamilton putting the pressure on Vettel for fourth place. Ricciardo, now in the plum seat was looking to force the Mercedes into a mistake but dropped off by the end of the lap. Jean-Eric Vergne continued to impress as he ran in a solid second place; the Frenchman – on 22 lap old tyres – was causing a traffic jam, as Rosberg, Vettel, Hamilton and Ricciardo closed in. Lap 33 and it was Rosberg who then pitted after being told to do “the opposite of Vergne”. Sebastian Vettel then said his blessings as he nearly replicated Pérez’s smash out of the last corner; the Red Bull getting onto the wet Astroturf on the exit and slewed across the track, missing the pit wall by a matter of centimetres. He continued but badly flat spotted his tyres and dropped to 6th.
Now rejuvenated, Lewis Hamilton smelt blood, at the expense of Vergne. With Vettel’s spin and Rosberg’s slow (4.9s) pit stop, the Brit sensed an opportunity to move into second place. Moving one way then another under braking for turns one and two, Vergne was doing everything he could to hang on. But on the climb up to turn four, the Mercedes pulled to the outside and bravely hung on round the outside and brilliantly claimed the position and began to pull away.
Following Hamilton’s every move was Ricciardo; the Australian was shadowing the Brit’s move and after Vergne pitted, he was up to third. Alonso, who led by over six seconds then pitted one lap before Hamilton. Hamilton – after a relatively slow stop too – rejoined behind the Spaniard but ahead of Rosberg.
Hamilton and Rosberg were now line astern, with Hamilton instructed to let his team-mate – on another strategy and due to pit again – on the main straight. Hamilton, preoccupied with the Ferrari of Alonso in front of him refused to commit. Rosberg meanwhile was getting more agitated by the second: “why isn’t he letting me through?” Hamilton replying saying “if he gets closer, he can overtake” – the tension reaching boiling point at Mercedes.
Rosberg then pitted and dropped to 6th and had it all to do. The German would make his way back through the field to finish fourth to salvage something from an ultimately disappointing race that on more than one occasion, he was dominating.
The closing stages saw an epic dual between Alonso in the lead, Hamilton second and Ricciardo chasing in third. A five second gap was whittled down to just under one second. Hamilton was gaining hand over fist on Alonso while Ricciardo was the faster than the pair of them. Rosberg meanwhile was setting the fastest lap of the race and was closing on all three of them. Miraculously, Alonso was still leading in the far from competitive Ferrari but Ricciardo made his move on Hamilton with four laps to go.
With Hamilton running a little wide at turn one; Ricciardo was side by side with the Mercedes into turn two. And despite locking his front left brake he hung on round the outside going toe to toe with the Brit before brilliantly cementing the place on the inside of turn three. The Australian, now invigorated went chasing after Alonso. And it wasn’t long before he was challenging and the very next lap, going into the first corner, he dived down the inside of a defenceless Ferrari to take the lead. Alonso now had to defend heavily from Hamilton for the remaining two and a half laps; but Ricciardo checked out – extending his lead by over a second per sector.
Hamilton and Alonso were now repeating something akin to Villeneuve-Arnoux from 1979, but Alonso – showing his class – defended staunchly in a way that no-one else would have been able to in such a car. Second, third and fourth (Alonso, Hamilton and Rosberg) were now separated by less than a second as they entered the final lap.
Ricciardo sprinted away to record his second career Grand Prix victory with a calculated and tactically astute race. Behind, Alonso did what Alonso does so well and held on to second place from Hamilton. Hamilton justified his team order rejection by beating Rosberg by just under half a second to take third and reduce the championship lead to four points.
Grand Prix in Quotes:
“To be honest, he didn’t get close enough to overtake but I was never going to lift off and lost ground to Fernando or Daniel to enable him to have a better race. So that was a bit strange” – Lewis Hamilton on whether or not it was right not to let Nico Rosberg through (Source: FIA, 2014)
“It honestly does compare to Canada. Obviously the first victory is special but it definitely leaves you wanting more. I was just as hungry for this second one and it feels just as good” – Daniel Ricciardo on his “special” second career victory (Source: FIA, 2014)